NEW YORK (AP) ¿ Warm weather is driving consumers to malls, and "pent-up demand" for clothing, especially from teenagers, may boost retailers' sales this summer, said an analyst on Tuesday. However, FBR Capital Markets analyst Adrienne Tennant cautioned that sales are still being driven by discounting, with markdowns actually increasing. Retailers have been besieged by dropping traffic and sales as customers, frightened by rising unemployment and tumbling stock prices, stayed home or bought at discounters like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Chains reacted to the worst holiday shopping season in at least four decades by deeply slashing prices to prop up sales, and earnings have shrunk for many, even as head counts drop. Abercrombie & Fitch Co., which has aggressively maintained the premier price of its surfer-collegiate casual look, continues to give up market share to other, cheaper teen retailers such as American Eagle Outfitters and Aeropostale Inc., Tennant said. Abercrombie shares are up nearly 9 percent in 2009, but have lost two-thirds of their value in the past 12 months.
Meanwhile, trendy shop Bebe Stores Inc., which Tennant hiked to "Outperform" earlier this month, is seeing improving traffic, she said. The company has made great cuts in inventory and operating expenses, and profit margins should stabilize soon, she said, even if same-store sales don't return to month-after-month growth for a while. Same-store sales measures sales at stores open at least a year, and is considered an indicator of a chain's vitality. On the other hand, woman's shop Ann Taylor Stores Corp. has expanded its markdowns from the same time last year, and Tennant said the spring collection was "too dark."